mm132: Delay imperils Dreamliner’s delivery date

September 7, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Friday is apparently catch-up day here at L-HC. In mid-July, Boeing rolled out the 787 Dreamliner to great acclaim.

Based on how industrially complex modern designed from scratch aircraft are, should we be surprised that delivery times are slipping?

chitrib

By Julie Johnsson | Tribune staff reporter

September 6, 2007

Boeing Co. officials acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that there is an increased risk it won’t meet its delivery schedule for its first 787 Dreamliner.

Production glitches have forced the planemaker to postpone the new jet’s maiden flight, once slated for late summer, until sometime between mid-November and mid-December, Scott Carson, president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said on a conference call with analysts and reporters.

That leaves Chicago-based Boeing just six months to gain federal certification for the 787 before the first aircraft is due to be delivered to Japan’s All Nippon Airways in May. To compensate, the company plans the most aggressive flight testing for the groundbreaking jet in its history.

Boeing still believes it can deliver the first plane on time. But the delays leave it with little or no buffer to deal with any problems it discovers during its flight tests, said Mike Bair, who leads the 787 program.

And, indeed, it’s the complexity that’s making problems for Boeing.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Delay imperils Dreamliner’s delivery date — chicagotribune.com

Remember how everyone beat up Airbus because their schedule for the gigantic double-decked 380 has slipped by a couple of years?

Boeing made out well, reopening production of a 40-year old 747 model that seemingly was destined to cease manufacture, due mainly to Boeing’s aggressive selling to customers such as FedEx and UPS who found Airbus’ 380 delays unacceptable.

And during this duress, Airbus’ original, too-derivative design for a Dreamliner competitor, model 350, failed to move the market and has required a total redesign, which has delayed prospective deliveries of the newly named 350XWB until the middle of the next decade.

Airbus, a typical European governmental/industrial mashup of Tower of Babel proportions, has gone through multiple violent management changes as a result.

But, guess what? Boeing has discovered for itself that designing and manufacturing a commercial airliner, in these days of global participation (i.e., if you want to sell airplanes to Indonesia, you’d better manufacture some component there, even if it’s a landing gear door), is a pretty tricky business, requiring logistical organization perfection on a worldwide scale.

And, remember the Challenger tragedy of 21+ years ago? It was an average, utilitarian, unglamorous O-ring that did it in.

And the Dreamliner’s current problems are with average, utilitarian, unglamorous fasteners.

For want of a nail, indeed…

dreamliner

Pretty, though.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm118: Overhaul of Air Traffic System Nears Key Step – washingtonpost.com

August 27, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Those of us victimized by the airlines, airport management, the TSA, too many too small aircraft in the skies (per Patrick Smith, most recently quoted here and here) can find a glimmer of hope in this report:

washingtonpost

Satellite Network Projected to Cut Flight Delays but May Take Years to Complete

By Del Quentin Wilber

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 27, 2007; Page A01

The federal government is expected this week to award a contract worth more than $1 billion to build the key components of its next-generation air traffic control system — a high-tech network that officials say will alleviate chronic flight delays.

The system comes at a critical time, officials say, with flight delays at record levels and commercial aviation expected to continue growing steadily. The network will rely on satellites, rather than radar, to guide aircraft, and it is expected to allow planes to fly closer together and take more direct routes, saving fuel and time while reducing pollution. Government officials say it will also improve safety by giving controllers and pilots more precise information about planes.

An ambitious plan, to be executed of course by the lowest bidder.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Overhaul of Air Traffic System Nears Key Step – washingtonpost.com

And, of course the ADS-B system is controversial in the U.S. (happily adopted in lots of the rest of the world, but what do those gals and guys know about technology, anyway?) — everybody who wants this system in the U.S. wants someone else to pay for it.

And I can’t help but feel, the way the story is written, that the air traffic controllers union feels that should the national system be improved it will come at the expense of employment of controllers. Hey, guys, traffic’s expanding! Jobs for everyone! (Of course, if it’s just a matter of talking on a two-way satellite radio, and looking at a screen, the everyones might be working out of their homes in Bengaluru, or Shanghai, but that’s details.)

Of course, this writer will probably be more concerned about a different variety of wings by the year 2020 (if alive, I’ll only be 18 years away from retirement!), but we can all dream, can’t we?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm105: Ask the Pilot Returns!

August 18, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

He never left, really, his column appears in Salon every other Friday. But his appearance in this space in July had two interesting effects.

1. For two days, the post evinced the largest readership ever for L-HC, by a two or three times.

2. One of those readers turned out to be a Salon lawyer, taking MUDGE to task for reproducing the article in its entirety, a copyright violation. They get millions of hits a day — Patrick Smith’s article pushed L-HC into the stratosphere, so to speak, with two days of 90 hits. They had every right to be concerned.

Anyway, it was Patrick’s topic, airline delays, that intrigued everyone, and he revisits that subject most brilliantly here.

salon

Ask the Pilot

Tired of long delays? Look at the bright side of flying: It’s cheaper and more accessible than ever.

By Patrick Smith

Aug. 17, 2007 | As the airlines announce their highest-ever load factors (percentage of seats sold), 2007 clocks in as the most delay-plagued year in aviation history. The past few months in particular have been excruciating, with bottlenecks victimizing tens of millions of fliers. The problem has not gone unnoticed by the media, major and minor. It seems that every last reporter and pundit, at every outlet from the Christian Science Monitor to National Public Radio, has run a feature story on the country’s ever-worsening air traffic crisis.

Up to now these stories have mostly been missing the point, failing to show that the real culprit here isn’t summer thunderstorms or faulty air traffic control equipment; it’s the airline industry’s obsession with pumping more and more airplanes — particularly smaller regional jets (RJs) — into an already saturated system. At long last, some of the coverage is getting it right. Namely, I refer you to Scott McCartney’s excellent report, “Small Jets, More Trips Worsen Airport Delays,” in the Aug. 13 edition of the Wall Street Journal. McCartney, author of the paper’s “Middle Seat” business travel column, examines the airlines’ untenable fixation with frequency. Even with a greater number of people flying than ever before, the size of the average aircraft has been shrinking. That means more takeoffs, more landings, more gridlock. The average jetliner now has 137 seats — 23 fewer than it did five years ago. The use of RJs, which carry anywhere from 35 to 70 passengers, has increased nearly 200 percent in that span.

I’ve yet to read a better analysis on the subject, and I’m glad someone’s finally taking notice of the problems with regional jets — a topic I covered extensively back in June and mid-July.

Patrick goes on to make some useful observations about how we air travel consumers have actually put ourselves in this position:

And you can’t entirely blame them. After all, we’re getting what we ask for. When airlines come around asking for opinions, their customers invariably answer yes, absolutely, they want and appreciate the opportunity to choose from no less than 35 daily departures between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Chicago and New York — even if only a quarter of those flights are anywhere close to departing on time.

So, here’s the link to the article, per our Salon-induced process. Enjoy, and say “Hi!” to their advertisers, from MUDGE.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Salon.com Technology | Ask the Pilot

He’s fascinating when discussing the actual cost of air travel:

The real cost of air travel — the price of a ticket adjusted for inflation — has fallen sharply over the past 20 years, even with tremendous surges in the cost of oil. According to the Air Transport Association, fares in 2006 averaged 12 percent lower than what they were in 2000, in spite of a 150 percent rise in jet fuel costs. Long after deregulation, fares have continued to drop as airlines have worked to squeeze cost from their product. Amenities and customer service aren’t what they used to be — on the whole they’re acceptable, and of late they’ve been improving — but what do you expect from carriers whose per-mile profit margins are sometimes a penny or less? Airlines sell what people claim to want. And if you read the surveys, even more than wanting lots and lots of flights to pick from, people want tickets at rock-bottom fares.

Traveled to Boston a couple of weekends ago, for business, at an extraordinarily low fare (my employer never expressed the appropriate gratitude — short of paying for it of course!).

Could control outbound, scheduled for the morning (always a better bet — accumulative delays have less time to accumulate in my experience), and still departed and arrived about 45 minutes later than scheduled, par for the course and not bad, all things considered.

The return was the Wednesday evening the conference was completed; when the courtesy shuttle got us back to Logan, found some colleagues who had decided not to wait for the free bus and took the taxi due to bookings on earlier flights still glumly awaiting their aircraft — storms in the Midwest.

Our flight was scheduled for much later, as it happened giving the weather at our destination an opportunity to clear, and again left and arrived about 45 minutes later than scheduled; for that hour of the night (a bit nerve-wracking when we realized that it was the last flight to O’Hare in the day’s schedule), not a bad outcome.

And my extended stay at Logan yielded this interesting benefit.

loganrainbow

For a larger view, click here.

Yeah, a rainbow, absurdly bright; and those of us snapping it got an unusual benefit, the reflection of the retro American Airlines logo mounted high on the wall opposite the terminal’s window. Photographed and transmitted by the way, on my LG EN-V (yes, no longer does MUDGE have EN-V envy!). By the way, this reduced image hardly does the original justice.

We’ll let Patrick have the last word:

And another nice change to savor, the next time you’re turning lazy circles over a holding fix: The person next to you might be ugly, and he might not stop talking, but at least he isn’t smoking.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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WcW004: Telepresence: Finally, videoconferencing that works

August 1, 2007

wcw1

Web Conferencing Week

I do web conferencing. But you might be surprised that videoconferencing is often what my web conference supplements — right there in the conference room.

Videoconferences predate web conferences by many years; although the state of the art is still as primitive as it is, one reluctantly admits, for web conferencing.

It’s all about the bandwidth.

Let’s take a look at this recent story from Computerworld, regarding what appears to be a pricey, but better, mousetrap for the videoconference process.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Telepresence: Finally, videoconferencing that works

computerworld

Telepresence: Finally, videoconferencing that works

It’s still not cheap, but telepresence technology takes videoconferencing a giant step forward. And did we mention that it’s really cool?

John Dickinson

July 31, 2007 (Computerworld) — If necessity really were the mother of invention, enterprises and small businesses would by now have highly functional, standardized videoconferencing and collaboration technology at their disposal. Instead, travel across the continent and around the world remains the dominant collaboration paradigm, despite the ever-increasing pressure of time-consuming security requirements and budget-killing airfare and hotel prices.

Back in the 1960s, the old AT&T Co.’s Western Electric Group demonstrated its Picturephone to a doubting world, and the world has remained doubtful ever since. That’s because videoconferencing systems developed since then have remained expensive and unpredictable, gadgets that usually delivered small, fuzzy, herky-jerky video images, often uncoordinated with people’s voices because of communications latency and unreliability.

When the Internet came along, there was hope that Web conferencing might fill the void, even though it lacks the collaborative impact of video images, relying solely on shared documents, especially presentations. Web conferencing has not been very satisfactory, requiring reserved bandwidth, separate telephone hookups for sound and notoriously troublesome desktop technologies.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Telepresence: Finally, videoconferencing that works

I ashamedly plead guilty to all of the above limitations of web conferencing. We don’t use reserved bandwidth in our instance, and we’ve finally gotten some priority (called Quality of Service) over competing internal traffic, but bandwidth, the potential sound quality issues of the accompanying telephone conference that still is required for our web conferences due to flaky VOIP (a subject of a future rant, I’m sure) — all of this adds up to a lot of compromise.

Telepresence technology is proposed as a spendy answer to the limits of the primitive state of current videoconferencing, and may well obviate the need for my specialty, web conferencing.

Telepresence configurations can use as few as one HDTV screen or as many as 16. Screens are positioned to be at eye level when local conferees are seated, and the images on the side-by-side screens are “stitched” together so that viewers feel they’re looking at one very wide screen. Speakers are positioned so that the sound appears to emanate from the mouth of the person at the remote site who is talking, not from the center of the table or some random location elsewhere in the room.

telepresence

Okay so the illustration, provided by one of the vendors, is somewhat idealized, but HOW COOL IS THAT?!

It costs how much?
Telepresence is an expensive technology, and only enterprise customers with large travel budgets can afford it. Once installed, telepresence systems are essentially free to operate, but it’s the installation that’ll get you.

A single-screen Cisco TelePresence system can be installed for $79,000 and a three-screen system for $299,000 per room, according to David Hsieh, Cisco’s director of marketing management. You have to multiply that by the number of rooms planned for the telepresence network.

Teliris VirtuaLive system costs are similar, with a single-screen room costing $60,000 and a four-screen room coming in at $250,000. Those costs include access to the Teliris dedicated network.

telepresence2

It’s expensive, but large enterprises, such as the one that employs yours truly has significant travel budgets, important outposts all over the globe, and the numbers just might work.

“Think of it as a nice substitute for a corporate jet,” says IDC analyst Nora Freedman. That comment is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but Forrester’s Dewing thinks it is realistic. “Figure that at Cisco, they’ve cut their corporate travel budget by 6% by using their own TelePresence systems internally,” says Dewing, who is familiar with Cisco’s internal usage pattern. “I don’t know the exact number, but that’s a pretty big hit.”

The factor that remains the greatest limiter to success with this otherwise ferociously attractive technology, is as with web conferencing I’ve learned the hard way these past five years, the state of the network.

The network is key
Networking has always been the Achilles’ heel of traditional videoconferencing, and it’s still a concern with telepresence. If the video isn’t smooth and perfectly coordinated with the audio in real time, the whole system devolves to being just like traditional videoconferencing. That’s important, says Ferguson. “With traditional videoconferencing, you can only sit there for about an hour. But with telepresence technology, a two- or three-hour meeting is quite reasonable,” he says.

As a result, one vendor runs their systems on a proprietary network, increasing the opportunity for a successful connection, but obviously representing an increment over using existing corporate network facilities.

Here’s how it hits conventional web conferencing:

[Teliris’] Telepresence Gateway can also communicate with traditional videoconference technologies, such as those offered by Polycom, and Web conferencing technologies such as WebEx and Microsoft’s LiveMeeting. Teleris also offers WebConnect, a Web-based telepresence product that enables a conference participant who is unable to be at a VirtuaLive-equipped site to join a conference. As Dewing points out, you don’t need expensive telepresence for applications like telecommuting, but linking traditional systems into telepresence systems can give those applications a boost.

I’m certainly aching to learn how soon our vendor, IBM/Lotus will provide a communications interface to this awesome tool for its Sametime web conferencing tool.

Because, no one has mentioned it to me (crawling around in the trenches as I do), but I’m certain one or more of those fancy installations is either planned, or already installed somewhere in the enterprise I call home.

And, let me explain why web conferencing tools even belong in the conversation about videoconferencing.

You still need to see the presentation, and a web conference provides a very elegant solution. At some of our organization’s highest level meetings, with video going out to several important sites, I’m sitting near the audio and video techs in the room sending out the slides via web conference, because they’re much easier to read in a medium optimized for presentations. The standard procedure is to use one of the screens in the receiving videoconference rooms for the web conference feed.

Notice the illustrations above: people — big beautiful high definition people — but not documents. That’s the job of web conferencing, and I want in on that telepresence action. Soon!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm085: Danger In The Repair Shop

July 26, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

My habit is to enjoy Business Week at (my usually) solitary lunch break. Imagine my digestive condition after reading this:

Business Week Online

JULY 30, 2007
GLOBAL BUSINESS

Danger In The Repair Shop

FAA inspectors are warning about the risks of outsourcing maintenance

The global economy has given consumers a lot to worry about these days: lead-laced toy trains, tainted toothpaste and pet food, and counterfeit drugs. Now add this to your list of fears: commercial jetliners that are routinely repaired in maintenance shops around the world that the Federal Aviation Administration has neither the funds nor the staff to oversee properly.

No one seems more worried than some of the FAA’S 3,000 inspectors themselves. They are sounding the alarm that foreign maintenance shops receive inadequate oversight and have become a risk for shoddy work and counterfeit parts. In interviews and in recent congressional testimony, inspectors and their union representatives say they are able to scrutinize thoroughly the work of only a handful of the 698 overseas maintenance contractors licensed by the FAA.

These facilities are sometimes found to hire unskilled and untrained employees. Inspectors, moreover, don’t have any ability to oversee an unknown number of obscure maintenance shops that lack FAA certification.

Fears about the safety consequences of outsourcing maintenance have been around since at least 2001. Worries were heightened in 2003, when an Air Midwest commuter jet crashed, killing 21, following faulty work by a domestic maintenance subcontractor. Now those anxieties are on the rise again as major carriers, faced with soaring fuel prices and cutthroat competition, move more of their work overseas. In March, Delta Air Lines (DALRQ ) outsourced the maintenance of airframes on 12 Boeing (BA ) 767 aircraft to a Hong Kong company, part of a wider strategy of moving repair work overseas that the company says saves about $250 million annually.

Two years ago, United Airlines Inc. (UAUA ) outsourced its 777 maintenance to another Chinese company. Delta and United say overseas outsourcing is safe and the facilities they use meet FAA standards. “Safety is always our first priority,” says United Airlines spokeswoman Megan McCarthy. “We’re not worried about the quality of the work.”

Every major U.S. carrier, in fact, has outsourced repair work beyond U.S. borders. But the extent of such work is growing. The Transportation Dept. estimates U.S. airlines spent 64% of their maintenance budgets, or some $3.7 billion, at outsourced facilities last year, up from 37% in 1996. And with U.S. consumers ever more wary of tainted goods and services from China, the latest push could stir a fresh wave of anxiety.

Already, some legislators and safety advocates are warning that outsourcing repair work is a disaster waiting to happen. In an interview with BusinessWeek, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who chaired a June Senate subcommittee hearing on foreign maintenance facilities, said she thinks “Americans would be shocked if they knew we have foreign repair stations that are not secure, employees without criminal background checks, and mechanics who are not qualified.”

According to some FAA inspectors, there’s plenty to worry about. In Taiwan, for instance, inspectors have been deeply troubled by what they observed over the course of the past two years at Chiang Kai-shek International Airport, where Boeing is modifying four 747 jumbo jets into extra-large cargo freighters. Inspectors say they found discarded B-747 parts, which they worried could wind up back in a commercial aircraft. As the old parts came off the planes–everything from aluminum panels to generators–they were dumped into unsecured bins, according to two inspectors who each shared their concerns separately with FAA inspector Linda Goodrich, a 23-year veteran of the agency and a senior member of the FAA inspectors’ union.

The repair shop, a unit of the Taipei-based Evergreen Group, a transportation conglomerate, is required to seal off the work area and destroy the parts, according to FAA regulations. Inspectors worry that any scavenger could grab the parts and resell them into the brisk market for counterfeit aircraft parts. The FAA itself has estimated that some 520,000 counterfeit parts make their way into planes each year. “These parts could be installed back on a passenger jet,” says Goodrich, who is based in Washington, D.C. “There’s no telling where these parts might show up or what could happen.”

Boeing Co. officials say the company followed FAA regulations and the parts in question have been destroyed. A senior Evergreen executive agrees that the work complied with FAA guidelines and that the parts were disposed of properly.

[Following publication of the story, Boeing officials conceded that FAA inspectors’ account was accurate. Boeing officials confirmed that two years ago parts taken from 747 jets were not identified, destroyed or disposed of properly. But as soon as the problems were identified, Boeing and Evergreen resolved them, said Boeing spokeswoman Mary Hanson. “Boeing did have some initial issues with scrap part identification and marking when it first started up the modification program in Taipei,” Hanson said. “Procedures to ensure proper part identification and marking were promptly put in place.” She said Boeing and Evergreen have since been in compliance with FAA rules.]

More broadly, the FAA disagrees strongly with its unions that foreign maintenance facilities pose a risk, citing the impressive safety record of U.S. carriers in recent years. James J. Ballough, FAA director for Flight Standards Service, says the agency visits each foreign repair station annually. “I am confident that we get a true picture of the compliance posture of those repair stations,” he says. “We have a great safety record.”

Some FAA inspectors, however, dispute the official line. They claim their biggest problem is simply getting the funds and clearance to travel to overseas sites. One inspector based in the Midwest says he is charged with inspecting dozens of facilities in Asia and Europe. But he’s able to visit only one or at most two such facilities a year, and then only briefly. “We’re not able to oversee the work to ensure it’s been done properly, whether they are properly using the tools, whether they have trained technicians,” says the inspector, who insisted on anonymity for fear of losing his job. “When such facilities were located in the U.S., we’d be in the shops every day.”

When inspectors do get overseas to observe the overhaul of, say, a jet engine, they say they find myriad problems, including faulty engine installations and improperly documented parts, a red flag for counterfeiting, according to Goodrich and several other FAA inspectors. Another common violation is not cleaning critical rotating parts before they’re inspected and checked for possible cracking. Such cracks, if undetected, could lead to an air disaster if the component fails, the inspectors say.

Such accounts are similar to testimony before Congress last month. “Our mechanics have found that aircraft returning from overseas flights had departed with obvious mechanical problems,” testified Robert Roach, vice-president of the International Association of Machinists, which represents many of the U.S.-based airline mechanics. The union opposes outsourcing and views it as a threat to its members’ jobs.

The ranks of FAA inspectors are likely to thin, not grow, as half of them are set to retire by 2010. But more inspectors wouldn’t help what is perhaps the most worrisome aspect of repair outsourcing: the hundreds of unlicensed maintenance subcontractors that operate completely below FAA radar. Licensed outsourcers often turn to these shops to save money, according to recent congressional testimony by Calvin L. Scovel III, the Inspector General for the Transportation Dept.

The IG testified that uncertified foreign repair stations have been performing maintenance that goes well beyond the simple oil changes and tire pressure checks previously thought to be taking place at these facilities. Instead, they’re repairing critical components, such as landing gear, and performing complete engine overhauls. The IG said that the FAA did not know the extent of maintenance performed at uncertified repair facilities, though he said the FAA is trying to find out.

And how do U.S. carriers follow up to ensure the work has been done? The IG said they rely mostly on telephone calls to the repair shops with which they’ve contracted.

By Stanley Holmes

Danger In The Repair Shop

So, once again the Republican stewards of our nation have screwed up yet another facet of the government that they have been trusted to oversee.

Why should any of us be surprised that the administration that has brought us the circus in Iraq, the post-Katrina catastrophe, and the threat to the Bill of Rights that is the Dept. of Homeland Security should have stumbled so badly managing airliner repairs?

In this case, the joke just might be on them — since you have to figure that the members of the plutocrat party spend more time traversing the airways than we serfs.

Meanwhile, MUDGE is not a frequent traveler by anyone’s standards. Of course, for the first time ever for this employer I am due to fly to Boston for a conference in 10 days. And of course, United is my employer’s preferred carrier.

Do you suppose my boss would allow me a few extra days so that I can make the drive?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm080: Why most terrorists are so incompetent. – By Tim Harford – Slate Magazine

July 23, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We wrote about the terrorist attempts in Britain a few weeks ago. Here’s an incisive analysis from yet another columnist I try not to miss at Slate.com blogroll2.

slate

the undercover economist: The economic mysteries of daily life.

Dumb Bomb – Why most terrorists are so incompetent.

By Tim Harford
Posted Saturday, July 21, 2007, at 7:53 AM ET

The attempted attacks in London and Glasgow, Scotland, three weeks ago surprised many people for two reasons: that the suspects were all educated medical professionals rather than desperate, uneducated vagrants; and that they bitched the job so badly.

The first revelation should not, by now, have been much of a surprise. My Financial Times colleague Gideon Rachman has reminded us that Osama Bin Laden is an engineer, his family is fabulously wealthy, and his deputy is a doctor.

Economist Alan Krueger, author of a new book called What Makes a Terrorist?: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism, attempts to add to these examples with a systematic study of the evidence. He concludes that terrorists, political extremists, and those who commit hate crimes are often relatively well-to-do. This is a difficult thing to prove, not least because each of those categories is controversial and there is a world of difference between, say, Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka. Krueger dips into different sources of data, each one imperfect, trying to build up a compelling picture from opinion polls, biographies of terrorists, and broader studies.

Opinion polls from Gaza and the West Bank conducted in December 2001 show that students and professionals are more likely than the unemployed or laborers to say that terrorism can be justified, and more likely to deny that a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv nightclub should be described as “a terrorist act.” (The polls reveal more unanimity than disagreement on these points but certainly offer no evidence that education or wealth leads to more moderate views.)

When he was a graduate student at Princeton, the young economist Claude Berrebi gathered data on more than 40 Palestinian suicide bombers. He concluded that they were far better educated than the typical Palestinian, and also richer. Krueger offers a complementary picture using biographies of 129 Hezbollah fighters killed in action, although not necessarily while attempting a terrorist attack. They, too, were somewhat better educated and less likely to be poor than the typical young Lebanese man of the time.

More indirect evidence comes from studies of hate crimes, which are thought to have some parallels with terrorism. Again, economic motives are hard to find. It was once the conventional wisdom that lynchings in the American South were more common whenever cotton prices were low, indicating tough times for the economy. Historians no longer believe in the correlation. In general, hate crimes do not seem to be more common in economic downturns—although economist Emily Oster seems to have found an exception in medieval witch hunts, which were more common when crops failed.

All in all, the research that professor Krueger gathers together suggests that if there is a link between poverty, education, and terrorism, it is the opposite of the one popularly assumed. We should not be surprised to find that terrorists can add up, read, and even write prescriptions.

What is more surprising is that the attackers in London and Glasgow were so incompetent. Claude Berrebi and Harvard economist Efraim Benmelech studied—there’s no nice way to put this—the human-resources policy of Palestinian terrorist groups. They found that older, better-educated terrorists secured more important suicide missions and killed more people. Having more than a high-school education doubles the chance of escaping capture, for example.

If the terrorists in this case do turn out to be the doctors and other professionals who are, as I write, suspected of the crime, it would demonstrate that even years of education and experience do not guarantee a successful attack. Blowing up innocent people is obviously harder than it looks, and for that we can all be grateful.

Why most terrorists are so incompetent. – By Tim Harford – Slate Magazine

This is all most disturbing. If these were U.S. trained doctors, you’d think that they might have decided to blow themselves up to get off the hook for their student loans. [Ba-dum-bump].

Two questions (well, at least two) come to mind after reading this:

  1. Hey, TSA — how’s that air travel profiling coming?
  2. How well do our ever-intrusive domestic security agencies know what’s up in our own Muslim communities? (And by the way, does anyone call it Detroitistan?)

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm068.1 Photos: Boeing’s Dreamliner makes debut | CNET News.com

July 15, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s kismet! Shortly after reading Patrick Smith’s distress at not having been invited to the rollout of the Dreamliner, this link landed in my in-box.

Boeing’s Dreamliner makes debut

July 9, 2007 5:29 AM PDT

The new 787 Dreamliner draws hordes of spectators to the tarmac at Boeing’s assembly plant in Everett, Wash., on Sunday. It was the first public appearance for the midsize airliner, which is just starting to go into production.

Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

Photos: Boeing’s Dreamliner makes debut | CNET News.com

If current trends continue, maybe I’ll get a chance to ride a Dreamliner when, as a clapped out, quarter-century-old beast, they put it on the ORD-LAX run promptly in 2033! Until then, I’m going to have to get serious about downsizing myself (my lifetime challenge!), so I fit better in today’s downsized aircraft.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm068: As delays hit record levels, a closer look at how airline scheduling practices are killing travel. Salon.com Technology | Ask the pilot

July 15, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

One of my absolute favorite regular reads is Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot blogroll2 column on Salon.com. He continues this week amplifying his explanation for the increasing unpleasantness of air travel in this country. Yes, we have eclectic interests here at L-HC… Worth the read, really!

Ask the pilot

Salon.com Technology | Ask the pilot

Article removed at the polite request of the copyright holder

I don’t travel as much as I’d like to – we have close family 2,000 miles away that we’d love to see (let’s face it, daily!) more than a few times a year. Patrick’s observation about how aircraft on major domestic routes have gotten smaller is one that I’ve been most painfully aware of for several years. Crammed into a MD80 for 4+ hours O’Hare to LAX, meal-free and movie-free, is a crime.

And his revelation that the congestion is due to more travelers on many more small airplanes is an eye-opener.

You won’t often see environmental observations in this space (please don’t get me started about green this or that, hybrid cars, etc.!), but it seems apparent that an MD80, 25 years old if its a day, is much less fuel-efficient and much more polluting than a larger, more modern choice. But, they stopped making 757s too.

And no such thing as a weather delay? I’d like to hear more about that, Patrick!

And, Patrick, elsewhere you’ll find pix of the rollout of the Dreamliner. Nobody invited me, either, damn it!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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